Gaza's Christian bookseller killed

The manager of Gaza's only Christian bookshop, who was abducted on Saturday by suspected Muslim extremists, was found dead yesterday. Medical officials said Rami Ayyad, 31, had been shot and stabbed. He was the father of two small children and his wife is pregnant with their third.

He is reported to have received several death threats since his Protestant bible shop was fire bombed six months ago, destroying shelves of books and pamphlets. He told friends that bearded men in a car stalked him and looked at him strangely after he locked up on Thursday.

The killers seized him as he left the shop on Saturday night. Suhad Massad, the director of the local Baptist bible society which runs the shop, said friends called his mobile phone when he did not arrive home. He told them he was running late.

Mr Ayyad's mother, Anisa, said he phoned his family. "He said he was going to be with the 'people' for another two hours and that if he was not back by then, he would not be returning for a long, long time." She added that Mr Ayyad, who was born into a Greek Orthodox family but worshipped in a Baptist congregation, had "redeemed Christ with his blood".

About 3,000 Arab Christians live among 1.4 million Muslims in the Gaza Strip. Attacks on Christians and their property are rare, but more than 40 video cassette shops and internet cafes, identified with Western values, have been bombed in the past year. So was an American school. A shadowy group calling itself the Righteous Swords of Islam claimed responsibility.

Up to 300 Muslims and Christians attended a memorial service for Mr Ayyad in a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City yesterday. The mourners were reluctant to point fingers or to open a rift between the faiths.

Ms Massad said: "We don't know who was behind the killing or why. Was it for money, or was it because he was selling Bibles?" Describing him as a man with a warm heart, a smiling face and no enemies. "We try to show Jesus' love for all people, but without evangelism."

Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, maintained: "This ugly act has no support by any religious group here." Nicholas Issa, a 50-year-old Christian, said: "Today is a black day for Gaza. We hope he was not killed because he was a Christian."

Another Christian, Jan Sa'ad, 42, said: "This has never happened before in Gaza. If somebody thinks this murder will make Christians leave, they are mistaken. This is our homeland. We are as patriotic as anyone."

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